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What Is Telepsychiatry?

One of the biggest problems in the United States health care system is getting psychiatric care to patients who need it. Secure, videoconferencing platforms have been helping to change this problem of mental healthcare shortages and expand access to care.

Telepsychiatry is an exciting development in our mental health field. It offers an affordable, simple way to revolutionize the mental healthcare industry and provide on-demand mental health support to individuals with a range of needs. In addition, telepsychiatry can also make getting psychiatric care a more convenient experience for patients, and prevent missed appointments when things come up. This convenience aspect could also have a huge effect on patient outcomes, as much psychiatric care needs to be received on a consistent schedule.

Read more: 8 Telemedicine Guidelines for Your Psychiatry Practice

This article includes basic information about how telepsychiatry works. Frequently asked questions are included for both patients and the professionals in the mental health field who are considering an online expansion of their practice.

The Trouble With Access

There are a variety of reasons that people cannot access mental health services. Basic things such as a remote geographical location, a psychiatric care shortage in the area, or just the cost of mental health care can make finding quality care difficult.

Others may have an unfortunate stigma against seeking out mental health care, and not feel comfortable getting help. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that one quarter of all adults living in the US have some form of mental illness. At some point in their life, one half of the population will experience some form of mental illness. Currently there is talk in the media that US citizens are over-medicated and over-diagnosed when it comes to mental illness, but these figures tell a different story.

How Is Access Improved By Telepsychiatry?

While Telepsychiatry is still in its early stages, the niche has seen tremendous growth over the past couple years. One of the reasons for this is the relative ease that most mental healthcare can be done via secure, online videochat solutions. Because in many cases, physical exams are unnecessary, psychiatrists do not encounter the same barrier to telemedicine that other healthcare providers may.

Here is how telepsychiatry is revolutionizing mental healthcare:

  • Telepsychiatry changes the economics of mental healthcare.The framework for delivering mental healthcare costs less to maintain. Instead of taking time off work, making arrangements for childcare or transportation, patients can simply go online to meet with their therapist. Insurance coverage for these online appointments is equivalent to a conventional visit when telemedicine is included in the policy.
  • Geographic barriers to mental healthcare disappear.No matter where a patient is located, they can access quality care simply by going online. Telepsychiatry is especially important in underserved rural areas. These areas typically have few mental health services available. Because there are no longer any delays due to travel or any additional travel expenses, intervening in a crisis situation becomes much faster. Should a patient require inpatient care, this can be streamlined as well.
  • The stigma is reduced.Many patients are uncomfortable going to a psychiatric office because they worry about being stigmatized. In addition, some people feel more comfortable communicating this way and become more inclined to open up.
  • Convenient mental healthcare means patients are less likely to miss telepsychiatry appointments, more likely to stay on track.Maintaining a consistent appointment schedule can be crucial to the success of a patient’s mental healthcare treatment. With telepsychiatry, patients can avoid inconveniences like travel to the office, or needing to take a half-day off work for every appointment, and instead simply go online and videochat their psychiatrist. This means patients are less likely to skip appointments.

Watch now: How to Choose the Right Telepsychiatry Software Solution for Your Practice

The future of telepsychiatry and telehealth as a whole is becoming increasingly promising. Health care providers are learning that they can deliver more options and better service when they include online services.

Telemedicine and Privacy

Anyone who uses the Internet must be concerned about maintaining their privacy. That’s why many providers, who must stay in compliance with HIPAA, have been reluctant to use telehealth services in the past as part of their practice.

However, many telepsychiatry solutions available on the market now are completely HIPAA-compliant and secure. Many also require very few upfront costs, and almost no telepsychiatry equipment purchases.

If you’re currently evaluating telepsychiatry software solutions, make sure to ask the vendor if they are HIPAA-compliant. This is one of the key differences between a general video conferencing solution, and a specific telemedicine solution – most standard video conferencing solutions or videochat apps are not HIPAA compliant.

Read more: Skype for Telemedicine – is Skype HIPAA compliant?

What Does A Typical Telepsychiatry Patient Experience

How do typical patients experience a telepsychiatric appointment? The simple truth is that getting the right mental health treatment doesn’t change very much no matter if the appointment is in-person or online. The need for care is still initiated by either contacting a local mental health clinic or by speaking with their primary care provider about any concerns they are having. Patients are then given a referral to see a mental health specialist or a psychiatrist using the telehealth method. The clinic or patient may set up an appointment time. At that time, the patient can login to the telepsychiatry platform and wait for the provider to start their appointment.

Both in-person and telepsyschiatry appointments follow the same clinical guidelines. Medicine can be prescribed at both. Treatment plans can be created and implemented at both. Issues can be fully discussed in a private setting at both. Since additional appointments and even referrals can be done over the Internet, patients can save time traveling as well as other related expenses.

One potential concern to consider is whether patients have the necessary telepsychiatry equipment needed (internet connection, webcam, computer) and feel comfortable using the software. While many telepsychiatry solutions on the market are incredibly user-friendly and not much different from using a videochat app like Skype, it’s important to make sure patients are comfortable using and communicating through the platform.

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